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A combined extended x–ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy and density functional theory study of americium vs. yttrium adsorption on corundum (α–Al2O3)

Huittinen, N. M.; Virtanen, S.; Roßberg, A.; Eibl, M.; Lönnrot, S.; Polly, R.


Adsorption reactions on mineral surfaces are influenced by the overall concentration of the adsorbing metal cation. Different site types (strong vs. weak ones) are often included to describe the complexation reactions in the various concentration regimes. More specifically, strong sites are presumed to retain metal ions at low sorbate concentrations, while weak sites contribute to metal ion retention when the sorbate concentration increases. The involvement of different sites in the sorption reaction may, thereby, also be influenced by competing cations, which increase the overall metal ion concentration in the system. To date, very little is known about the complex structures and metal ion speciation in these hypothetical strong- and weak-site regimes, especially in competing scenarios. In the present study, we have investigated the uptake of the actinide americium on corundum (α–Al2O3) in the absence and presence of yttrium as competing metal by combining extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy (EXAFS) with density functional theory (DFT) calculations. Isotherm studies using the radioactive 152Eu tracer were used to identify the sorption regimes where strong sites and weak sites contribute to the sorption reaction. The overall americium concentration, as well as the presence of yttrium could be seen to influence both the amount of americium uptake by corundum, but also the speciation at the surface. More specifically, increasing the Am3+ or Y3+ concentrations from the strong site to the weak site concentration regimes in the mineral suspensions resulted in a decrease in the overall Am–O coordination number from nine to eight, with a subsequent shortening of the average Am–O bond length. DFT calculations suggest a reduction of the surface coordination with increasing metal–ion loading, postulating the formation of tetradentate and tridentate Am3+ complexes at low and high surface coverages, respectively.

Keywords: EXAFS; DFT; sorption competition; Am3+; Y3+; speciation; strong sites; weak sites

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